How Did Topological Data Analysis (TDA) Lead to the Birth of Ayasdi?

Topological Data Analysis (TDA) brings together mathematics with computer science, and uses algorithms and concepts from algebraic topology to extract insights from complex multi-dimensional data structures. In more layman’s terms: Topological Data Analysis studies the underlying shape of data with the principle that “Data has Shape, Shape has Meaning.”

While Topological Data Analysis (TDA) may seem like something only for math people, Ayasdi’s founder and Stanford Mathematics Professor Gunnar Carlsson had a goal to make TDA into something that anyone could use without having a Ph.D. in mathematics.

So you may be wondering “Where did TDA come from?”

Seven Bridges

Topology dates back to the mid-18th century dating back to the famous mathematical problem by Leonhard Euler called the Seven Bridges of Königsberg. For the past 250+ years, like many mathematical concepts, topology remained on the pure side until the late 1990’s. This was when Stanford Professor of Mathematics and Ayasdi Co-founder, Gunnar Carlsson had the foresight that topology could be applied to the real world problem sets to understand patterns and find answers to complex problems. Initially funded by Stanford and later NSF (National Science Foundation) and DARPA, Gunnar led a decade-long effort to apply Topological Data Analysis (TDA) to some of DARPA’s most complex datasets to find things never before discovered. 

As the Principal Investigator, Gunnar, recruited his Stanford graduate student pal, Harlan Sexton, a mathematician and computer engineer whom for the past 20 years was inventing things such as some of the core code inside the Oracle RDBMS, and Stanford graduate post-doc student, Gurjeet Singh, who like Harlan is a mathematician with a deep computer science background. In 2008, after success with the DARPA program, it became evident that the potential application of Topological Data Analysis (TDA) was possible. It was then that DARPA provided Ayasdi’s founders with an SBIR grant to start a company so that TDA could be commercialized for any organization outside the government.

This was the birth of Ayasdi.

For further reading, consider this in-depth introduction to TDA or Gunnar Carlsson’s publication on TDA.